Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

Raising Alexander – Theists, Theists Everywhere

This is my baby son, Alexander.

As you can see, he’s busily engaged in trying to tear his donkey’s head open.

Here he is in a Spider-Man top, meeting Loken, the family cat:

A meeting of minds.

Here he is, unbearably happy at 6 in the fucking morning, which is when we he wakes for the early feed:

Here he is in an unacceptably light-hearted version of his father’s normal attire:

Beanies shouldn’t have eyes on them. That’s the beginning and end of it.

Here he is in a sleeping bag that looks kinda like a dress:

Alexander is, fortunately, surrounded by grandparents, uncles, aunts, great-aunts, great-uncles, various cousins that come in at oblique bloodline-based angles, and (until very recently) a great-grandmother. And this is just on Katie’s side of the family. My side lives back in England, Poland, Canada, and wherever else the Dembski and Bowden clans exodussed themselves over time for kicks.

So on a day to day basis, there’s a lot of familial backup. The flip side of that coin means that everyone has an opinion. Katie and I are discovering that threshold discovered by every parent ever since the dawn of time, where your bumbling, stumbling efforts as a first-time parent are at least marginally watched by the very generation that raised you two or three decades before. For some people, that won’t go smoothly, but we’re pretty lucky on that score. Katie’s vast family network (Irish, remember, so we’re talking billions of the fuckers…) are supportive but not stifling. They’re eager, helpful, involved – but not, to use the parlance of the times, all up in our shit.

They are, however, all theists. Christian to the core. At least, all of them older than 30 are, which is to be expected in the Western World. You’d especially expect it in countries like Ireland and America were Christianity isn’t just “Something your grandma does on Sundays”, which is what it’s mostly become in England.

This isn’t an attack on religion, or religious beliefs, or the members of mine and Katie’s family that think Jesus is rad, and God is awesome. I give theists the same regard I give atheists, which is to say I devote exactly 0.0001% of my attention span to them and their views, and have no interest in taking either side in the spurious war over who fucks whom, what bits they do it with, and when they’re allowed to do it. I don’t care. I have my own thoughts on religious mythology, and that’s mostly based on how cool I find it. Whether I’m actually faithful or not is irrelevant, because this isn’t about me. This is about Alex.

No matter what I believe, or what his family believes, I’m pretty much of the mind that a baby / toddler / little kid is no more a member of Faith X than they are a stuntman, an astronaut, or a progressive grindcore post-industrial lead guitarist. Doug Stanhope makes the obvious point that if you “beat that shit into them while their heads are still soft”, then they’ll grow up believing it as the truth. Obviously, anyone can rethink things later in life, but the point is a good one.

I get that a lot of theists consider their religious views to be The Right One. That it benefits their lives, and is objectively the truth, so therefore why wait until someone’s 16 or 18 to start teaching it to them? The thing is – and here’s the kicker – that’s absolutely anathema to me. Not because people believe. I’m fine with people believing. But I get easily disgusted at the thought of anyone believing with such fervour that they tell a child their way is The One True Way. It reeks of some ardent, invincible arrogance that has always terrified me, and I’ll never understand why it doesn’t terrify everyone.

Of course, you get a bajillion theists who’ll say their path of faith is just one way of connecting with the same higher power every religious person connects with. Like I said, this isn’t some vast assault on anyone who believes in a god, or gods, or magic. I’m not anti-religion. I’m not even anti-organised-religion. I could be the most religious person in the world, and it’s no one’s business as far as I’m concerned. For those of you reading this now and assuming that, from my tone, I’m an abject atheist or a closet Christian, you’re wrong. My thoughts don’t mean shit, and that’s the whole point. The most you’ll see me weigh in on is the absolute necessity of the separation between church and state, which actually ties in quite neatly to my whole fears for raising my son. When you see the American far-right (who scarcely resemble the Republicans of a mere few decades ago) mentioning the Bible in politics, or dragging their beliefs into the policies for running a nation, you’ve got a sickness seeping into the system. Freedom of religion has to mean other people can believe other things, and not fall under the aegis of your faith’s laws. Society has laws based on humanistic morality. Religious laws had their chance, but we’re past that now. To suggest anything else is more than arrogant, it’s a disgusting breach of civil rights.

Katie and I half-joked about making The List, so Alexander’s tribal elders would know our views on just how we wanted him raised. That implies a rigidity and definitiveness that doesn’t actually exist; it’d really just be a Post-It saying:

  • “Don’t feed him solids when he’s too young.”
  • “Don’t tell him your god is the real one.”
  • “Don’t tell him he’ll go to Hell if he doesn’t believe what you believe.” 

I was briefly tempted to just use this:

The God of Fertility *and* Music? His parties must fucking rule.

It makes a logical point (about your god just being one of thousands, all ridiculous to someone, etc.) but it’s not really a reflection of what I think. It is, however, sort of funny.

We agreed that we’ll explain a bit about the nature of belief, and tell him about all of the world’s major religions – as well as any of the smaller ones I can Google or Wikipedia when the time comes. I know quite a chunk about most of the Big Faiths’ histories and mythologies, as it happens, as I researched them loads for various RPG projects and novels. I’m a fan of all religious backstories, and I’m always on the hunt for more info.

Where Alex is concerned, it mostly comes down to showing him that people across the world believe different things, and yes, a lot of it comes down to having it hammered into their heads while their heads are still soft. The people around him are uniformly Christian because of their location, their upbringing, and their close-knit culture. That doesn’t mean it’s true, it’s just the way the coins have come up in this particular place. Buddhists tend to believe X, and their faith came from Y. Muslims tend to believe A, and their faith started at Point B. Christians branch out along E, F and G, and the local branch is largely H.

And so on.

But it goes both ways. I’m not licking my lips and rocking back and forth with predatory delight, clutching my copy of God is a Cunt, by Richard Dawkins. I’m not salivating my way through heathen un-prayers, until the blessed, blessed night I can finally read anti-Christian memes to him as bedtime stories. That’s not how this works. If it was, do you honestly think I’d have spent so long discussing all this, and fifty times as long thinking about it?

 

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Atheist parents raise atheist kids who eventually become theists, and theist parents raise theist kids who eventually become atheists. I guess it’s irrelevant, when push comes to shove.

I think the key is to present people’s views respectfully, but equally, and in enough detail to give them context. Admittedly, the atheist view will come with a certain degree of logical counterargument and evidence against the theist view. Critical thinking and reason supports one side, let’s not deceive ourselves otherwise. But while the theist view lacks evidence, it thrives on community and people’s natural desire to belong, to be involved, and to flock together. People believe for reasons, and those reasons themselves are interesting. I also know from personal experience that as practically the only guy in this tiny village that doesn’t go to church, it feels a little weird and isolated. No one wants to feel that way, especially when you’re a kid. You want to fit in. You work hard to make sure you do. You tow the party line. I’m only fine with it because I’m an antisocial nightmare of a human being, that often hopes his own closest friends will be in last-minute (non-fatal) car accidents, preventing them from coming over. I like being alone, which – incidentally – is not a great trait in a dad, and something I’m working on.

I think the Elder’s Guide to Alexander will look a little like this:

  • We don’t care if he’s a theist or an atheist. We have no emotional investment in his final decision, either way. If he’s religious, we’ll gladly support him. If he’s not, we’ll support him there, too.
  • Respect the fact that it’s a final decision, not something he needs to worry about while growing up, unless he chooses to.
  • In terms of education, we’ll explain both theism and atheism to him, as best we can. Trust us to teach every religion (and the absence of religion) equally. If you’re worried we’ll make Christianity look bad, you’re doing us a disservice. If you’re worried we have an agenda to make our son atheist, you’re doing us a disservice.
  • We’ll never be angry if you take him to church. It’s a big part of the community here (and they have a cool band). If he wants to go to church, feel free to take him. If he doesn’t want to go, we know you’d never force him.
  • Don’t tell him your god is the right god, or that a theist view is objectively true. On the same note, don’t ever tell him he’s going to Hell if he does/doesn’t do X, or he’ll get to Heaven if he does / doesn’t do Y.

So those are my scattered, half-clutched thoughts on the whole thorny, stormy deal.

I’m a dad now. I have analysis paralysis. I worry.

I just want to do a good job. I’d settle for him being marginally less useless and fucked-up than me, and I’m aiming towards that goal however I can.

May Lono have mercy on us all.

Don’t let me fuck this up.

August 5, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

59 Comments »

  1. Well said! Can’t say much more since it more or less match up with own my views and you have written it in a more elegant way than I ever could (at least in English)

    Comment by Björn Engström | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  2. I’m thinking the polynesians got it right

    Comment by tim clowes | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  3. I guess Odin is alright with your post 😛

    Note, I’m reading your blogs about parenting as a guide for when I have kids…5-10 years down the road (though I suppose I should find a girl to have those kids with first).

    As I get older I’m finding I have a similar view on religion as you do, and I was brought up strict Catholic. But it gets tiring when extremists from both sides of the theist/atheist argument fling poo at one another. I got real sick of religion in Iraq when Muslims would kill Christians because they are, in fact, “worshipping the same God the wrong way.” I got really really sick of it growing up here in the US when I’d have people of other Christian denominations tell me I’m going to hell because I’m not the right brand of Christian.

    Really? Like…REALLY!?

    Excellent blog post. Really touches on what I think a lot of people feel these days. And best of luck raising your son. 🙂

    Comment by Christopher Meyer | August 5, 2012 | Reply

    • I sort of giggled at the “find a girl to have those kids with.” Oh, you hasty boys. Always forgetting key parts of the equation! (I’m totally kidding.)

      I could always take the cultural bit with a grain of salt and digest that easier; I hated knowing that Jews/Muslims/Christians were willingly killing each other over something as inane as a belief (important to you, but not necessarily to someone else), but I could understand that in places where the countries actually have religion written into the rules/legislation (even though I disagree wholeheartedly).

      However, as I also grew up in the US, I was always more disgusted by some religious people there. When I came out as an agnostic/atheist/non-religious, my non-parent family tried to drill it back into my head because they swore I couldn’t be moral (and they failed miserably). While doing an undergrad in anthropology in Kentucky, people tried to tell me how big of a blasphemer I was for believing in evolution (because science is the devil in the Bible Belt?). I’m fine with individual religion, but this mob-mentality makes me want to scream.

      To Aaron: I totally adore this post. More people need to realise things of this nature and be more open to allowing their children to, you know, think.

      Comment by nikki | August 6, 2012 | Reply

  4. Dear Aaron, I’ve looked on Amazon for a copy of God is a Cunt by Richard Dawkins but cannot find it. Is it currently out of print or something?

    Comment by Richard Ford | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  5. Lucky Alexander, he’ll grow up quite awesome with parents like you two 🙂

    Comment by Vict0r | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  6. I was actually reading The First Heretic, of all things, when I read this,

    Yeah… as always, you do make some cynical yet perfectly reasonable points. I remember reading TFH the very first time after games day (thanks for signing my copy btw!). You clearly seem to know quite a lot about religion and how it effects people, or at least have thought quite a lot about it.

    Yeah, coming from a Christian/Hindu family I sometimes find myself in this camp too – more of an agnostic than anything else.
    That said… do any of your/Katie’s family follow your blog? No offense or anything, but you might offend some of them… just what springs to mind is that time you told all your web-followers about the pregnancy when you were keeping it a secret from them… :/
    But meh. Don’t worry. Don’t look back. That is the mark of a good dad.

    Comment by VDOG | August 5, 2012 | Reply

    • “That said… do any of your/Katie’s family follow your blog? No offense or anything, but you might offend some of them… just what springs to mind is that time you told all your web-followers about the pregnancy when you were keeping it a secret from them… :/”

      Hey, man. No, no – I was pretty careful about the pregnancy thing. The family knew a few days before; it was my older sister that I missed, though. My bad. I’d blithely assumed Mum would tell her.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | August 5, 2012 | Reply

      • aha. Thank god, I posted all that, read it back to myself, and was like… ‘Oh my god. ADB is going to go all nerd-rage on me like he did on that dick who dissed the betrayer front cover”…

        Comment by VDOG | August 8, 2012

      • I… what?

        Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | August 8, 2012

    • They do, but I don’t think they will be offended by this, as Aaron wasn’t being harsh, cruel or mean, but objective and none of my family are, thankfully, fanatical, they know our beliefs differ and they are very cool with that.

      Comment by KatieKatie | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  7. You’re a dad. Of course you’re going to fuck things up.

    You’re going to miss a soccer match, you’re going to not be able to get that bouncy castle for his birthday, you’re going to call Pluto “Goofy”, you will not be able to name the first 300 Chinpokomon, you will be the one telling him not to wear threadbare jeans to meet the President, and you might even let out a particularly stinky fart when you bend down to pick up his LEGOs and have him shake his head and go “Dude!”

    You are also going to pick him up when he’s skinned his knee, you will get him that really awesome toy that he will later spend $100 buying off eBay when he’s 30, you will teach him how to do something particularly cool that he’ll teach his kids, you will teach him honor and compassion, and in your special case your son will walk around at his high school’s Scifi club saying “Your dad’s the assistant manager at a wholesale packing plant? That’s kind of rad. My dad wrote THE BETRAYER, which is ten kinds of awesome.”

    At least, that’s what I’ve learned so far. You and Katie will be great. Don’t worry about the small stuff. Just remember that no matter how excited you get over your football team winning it is never appropriate to spike the baby in the middle of your touchdown dance!

    Comment by John the Great | August 5, 2012 | Reply

    • Also I just caught the Galvatron reference with the first photo. Well done!

      Comment by John the Great | August 5, 2012 | Reply

    • As a dad myself, I must applaud your opening line John, simply cutting to the heart of it all : )

      Comment by Dave Taylor | August 5, 2012 | Reply

      • It’s something I think bout often. 🙂

        Comment by John the Great | August 5, 2012

    • mate. It’s BETRAYER. not THE BETRAYER. just thought i’d let you know 😛 but very nice post otherwise

      Comment by VDOG | August 8, 2012 | Reply

  8. A good argument ADB. And don’t worry, i’m sure that Alexander will recognize that Chaos is the one true faith. 🙂

    LotN

    Comment by Lord of the Night | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  9. Aaron,

    Come by your blog as a (former) school friend of Dave Cox. I really appreciate your stance, and your willingness to dissect it all for all the world to see. Fatherhood is probably a way off for me, but this is as good a guide as to how to be committed to a child’s education but not emotional involved in their choices as I’ve seen. I suspect there will be times when it’s not so easy, but I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on it nonetheless.

    All the best,
    Dave

    Comment by David Marriott | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  10. I was forcibly raised a Methodist/Lutheran/whatever brand of Protestantism the Chaplain was at the time, which led to an early lifetime of toeing a party line to avoid familial drama until I was old enough to tell the folks that I wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid anymore on their account. I prefer to quote the Hagakure in such situations now: “It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.” One thing became two in that sack of cats a long time ago, and my Way is that I’m not even remotely interested in trying to undo that much crazy. The fact of the matter is that if I have to choose between living forever in a Heaven populated by the mind-numbed servitors of what appears in all likelihood as an insane deity no matter what tome you’re reading and living in Hell, I’d rent Heaven out and live in Hell.

    Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  11. Considering the careful thought you put into this blog post I think you will do just fine raising Alexander. Parenting to me (a 23 year old postgraduate with the barest minimum of relationship and child raising experience) seems to be the hardest and most simple thing in the world.

    When your child is in his infancy you feed the kid, change the kid when he cheerfully soils himself and comfort him when the wide world has him rattled. And as he grows, you gradually teach him to do the first two duties for himself whilst maintaining consistency with the third. And when he was reached a point when he is confident enough to hold himself high a mile or a thousand miles from him you give that same constant support regardless as if he were right there beside you.

    Everything else is just flotsam and jetsam, which can be both ignored with ease or examined with the same focused intensity. Like how Gollum spent all his time staring at a gold ring that put voices in his head whilst ignoring his transformation into a grey-skinned midget with severe anorexia and male pattern baldness.

    Comment by Lysander45 | August 5, 2012 | Reply

    • Meant to say ‘from you’…how did that error slip by? Tried to be deep, kinda half assed it. Oh well.

      Comment by Lysander45 | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  12. Well said.

    The one time I ever paid my respects to any deities was at this place: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_Mo_Temple. Because, well, the gods of literature and warfare? I figured it was a good place to cover my theocratic bases.

    Comment by James Swallow | August 5, 2012 | Reply

    • Oh, man. Road trip?

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | August 5, 2012 | Reply

      • I’m there. I’m not saying it worked or anything, but by the end of the year I had four novels published.

        Comment by James Swallow | August 5, 2012

  13. Raising Alexander for me boils down to essentially: Pro-Information. Pro-Choice, Pro-Independence.

    But I shall be doing loads of Blogs on this soon.

    Comment by Katie | August 5, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for doing in two sentences what took me an hour to write.

      I hate you.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | August 5, 2012 | Reply

      • She also wrote The Betrayer as a Facebook post and won a Pulitzer Prize!

        Comment by John the Great | August 5, 2012

  14. This was a very interesting and unexpected article. I liked seeing your viewpoint, especially as I do wonder about these things from authors I read. I’m always curious how much of them *might* make it into a book, if at all.

    I’m glad to see that you will raise your son to be healthy and happy, doing your best to give him the best, that’s what matters most. I think its essential and very responsible of you both to allow him to choose his path because religion and faith should be personal. In another life I was a youth group leader in a conservative church, still I did several lessons on a variety of world religions…I didn’t want the kids to be ignorant and ill-informed. But anyway, look at that cute little face, I think he has everything he needs right now! Unless Khorne is the One True God. But I think you’re ok there. Maybe. Who knows, haha?

    Comment by warsculptor | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  15. Funnily enough, I’ve been following your page for a while and I have the same situation. I had a daughter on the 15th of March and my Mrs, knowing I’m an atheist, asked me what I would say to my girl if someone close to us died and she asked what happened to them. I told her I would say that some people believe they will go to heaven and meet god and his son, some people believe he’ll be reincarnated, while some people believe they will become one with the earth again, and become parts of the ecosystem around them. I’m never gonna go the angle of “they rot in the ground andbecome worm food”. You don’t have to be a cunt about things!

    . Now I’m an atheist, and I like trolling on fundies of all kinds, including atheists (though my favourite is trolling on 24 yr old emo “satanists” who laugh at christians because their god isn’t real. Ooo the idiocy). I had to think, because although I would like my daughter to have a logical, rational and scientific mind, I will NEVER force her into anything I believe, the same way I’m not going to force her into gaming, if she picks it up then great!

    It all comes down to a quote from some random site.

    Religions are like penises.
    It’s ok to have one and to be proud of it,Just don’t get it out and wave it around in public,
    and whatever you do, DO NOT try and force it down my childs throat.

    Comment by Heru2012 | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  16. Two thumbs way up guys. This goes down in the books as “how it should be done” and have lots of references pointing here. ^5

    Comment by Jeffery Preston | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  17. Me and my brother were literally having this conversation yesterday and we came to the exact conclusion you have and its God damn refreshing to know that there are other people out there that believe its wrong to inflict your one true god on anyone never mind and innocent Child with many horrendous consequences if you don’t believe in their one true god^^’

    I mean its common bloody sense to all free thinking, accepting and questioning Human beings in the world. Me and my brother were raised in bible bashing house in northern ireland with religion literally scared into us(not the ideal religious experience for anyone). Its a country where you have to tread carefully around people and their religious views and beliefs from a very young age and this is what showed me the true brain washing power of religion on children in all the wrong ways. We are both now secular in opinion but we have different views and beliefs but we get along great without religion ever causing grief between us.

    Growing up in a country divided by religion is why I strongly agree with you and feel religion and state should be separate. Secularism(with everyone with true freedom of speech) is the way forward for the human race if we are ever going to work together to unite and save this ailing world.

    Comment by Adam Curlybap Ruddy | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  18. Although, I’m a confirmed priest in the Church of the Latter Day Dude (and you sound like you’re, you know, Abiding, anyway), I am now tempted by this Lono that you speak of…

    Not the one from 100 Bullets, though, he’s a monster. And certainly not the Lo(w)/No alcohol wine kind either (strict drug regimen, etc.)

    Comment by G | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  19. As an abject atheist who has a copy of “God is a Cunt” by Richard Dawkins in his library, while I feel a little misrepresented by being generalized into a group that is actively anti-religious and would see it wiped off the Earth, I can at least understand the sentiment of doing so and where the public misunderstandings might be found.

    An atheist is simply someone who doesn’t hold a belief in a deity. There shouldn’t be any other baggage there. They come from all walks of life, all stances in government, and all levels of natural dickishness.

    What you’re speaking about specifically is child indoctrination, and we certainly share views about it as far as parenting goes. While I may champion a separation of church and state in my personal life, I’m not raising my children to explicitly deny deities, I’m simply raising them to ask “Why?” as often as humanly possible and to think critically, with confidence that no matter what religion they choose, it will have been done for reasons that don’t completely suck.

    I don’t think fitting into a community is a good enough reason to choose religion these days, given the vast wealth of out-of-the-closet atheists out there thriving in both local and Internet communities. It is a personal viewpoint (certainly attained using reason and evidence) that the harmful effects of an actionable belief in myths don’t quite outweigh the positives you can now find in non-mythological communities, but that particular view is not something that I’ll beat my kids with, I’ll simply lay down the facts and if they ask me my own opinion, I’ll give them my own reasons.

    Lumping the atheists who oppose child indoctrination in with the tremendously small subset of atheists who want to legislate atheism into government (of which Dawkins is not one of those people) or read their kids seems a tad bit unfair.

    If you’ve read Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality”, it is a fantastic children’s book (middle school level) that does exactly what you propose; treats all mythologies with a respectful equality and teaches children the skills they need to glean truth from fiction in life and not be fooled by the very people your blog targets; those who would tell children that their religion is objectively true, with all the punishments for non-belief that go along with that (I might add that they tend to do that in the church you’d let Alex go to – my advice would be to accompany him on those visits to serve as a bullshit filter).

    For some background, I am a U.S. Marine unmanned aircraft operator stationed in Yuma, Arizona. I have a son, Malakai (3), and a daughter, Avianna (1). Malakai is autistic, and lacks the ability to effectively communicate or fully understand the nuances of emotional tone and inflection. As part of his behavioral therapies, he is now in a mimic-reward stage where everything people say and do, he’s going to mimic them to learn how to speak; better articulating words, ascribing meaning to them, and using them independently to communicate with us. This process of mimicry to help reduce his echolalia and echopraxia may go on for many years, meaning he has no bullshit filter of his own and he is in a very vulnerable state to people who would fill his head with nonsense.

    For this reason, I tend to have my shields up more often around people who would teach my child(ren) fairy tales as truth, and it makes it much harder when the religious masses make it their primary mission to tell me what a “blessing from God” my child’s autism is, as if some deity made him autistic for a reason.

    Thanks for the post, Aaron!

    Comment by Chris Herr | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  20. Essentially at the core of this discussion is this: “Kids will believe anything they are told is true by an adult.”

    When your kid becomes sceptical about moons being made of cheese and the fat bearded man delivering presents at xmas [there is totally a joke here that i am far too polite to make.] That’s generally when their critical thinking has started to kick in.

    [If i ever have kids i’m teaching them about the giant spaghetti monster that lives in space… as a long payoff on the amusement that will come from his/her interaction with adults and teachers later in life.]

    Comment by Thomas Redcliffe Salamanca-Darke | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  21. Well said that man.

    Being Dad to 14-month old Isla I’ve also deliberated over most of your points. Being decidedly agnostic (cop out, I know) her Mum and I find the idea of force feeding her one particular flavour of science fiction, sorry, religion hugely abhorrent. With open, two way discussion, she can make her own mind up when she’s ready.

    Cheers ADB, you’re a fucking legend.

    Comment by Buzz Burrows | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  22. Here’s to you, sir.

    An anecdote if I may. I intend to follow the same example as you – teach my children (wherever they are right now, I don’t have them) to respect and honour religions and beliefs whilst making up their own minds for themselves. I too find the far right neo-conservatives just that one step too far when they won’t allow abortion for raped women but will happily allow people to carry concealed life stealers.

    As it is, I have a sister-in-law intent on teaching their children about religion and ‘all that fantasy crap’ as she referred to it when looking at the possibility of sending her son to a faith-based secondary school (don’t get me started on that diatribe, I have few enough friends.) When questioned she said she would teach their children about religion at home. For Christmas, her eldest son got a book on atheism by Richard Dorkins. When I asked the child about his religious learning, he couldn’t remember a thing, but happily recited his parent’s atheist agenda.

    Children are a blank slate, and to truly exist in the world should be exposed to all the information that’s there – not just that which parents believe is moral, correct, acceptable, or others. Once they reach a given age, they will find their own way.

    You and Katie are my idols of child-raising. Will you adopt me?

    Comment by TIm Kenyon | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  23. I am interested in the polynesian god Lono and would like to know more of his mythology and pantheon.

    I have yet to assemble a mythology and panthoen of my own though, so I’m afraid I can’t let you know about them, and so will have to head to google to learn more.

    As an irish agnostic atheist (Uh, I don’t believe in any particular god or anything, but not going to go invade christian space to preach about it. The only time I’ll do that is for education topics like vaccines and evolution, but that’s because I am a biologist.) I am worried about running into similar issues in the still distant future, so the post was interesting in a ‘heads up’ kind of way, but I think(hope?) my own set of ‘tribal elders’ will be pretty easy going about such things.

    Comment by sycopat | August 5, 2012 | Reply

    • “I have yet to assemble a mythology and panthoen of my own”

      My kids (11 and 14) have an entire universe with its own Gods (Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why are the main gods; sounds like a bad comedy sketch, doesn’t it?), so what’s your excuse? 😉

      Comment by badrescher | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  24. As your mother Aaron you are of course, fully aware, that I read this blog and in fact everything about you on the interweb.

    First of all WELL SAID.

    Secondly, I have certainly not taken offence at anything here you have written. Reading what you have said in this blog, makes me even more sure, that the way I/we brought you up was, the right way to go. (Well, most of the time anyway!). I made some mistakes and no doubt you will do the same at times. That is how we learn and grow. WOW though. And no, that is not World of Warcraft. That stands for Word of Warning…. You wait until your children become teenagers. Different ball game altogether then. All the best with that in years to come! Unbelievable how your darling little cherub, gets taken over by some “alien”, when they reach that magic number ending in “teen”.

    Anyway, Life is all about choices. Especially about the choices we are allowed to make ourselves. Be they the right or the wrong ones, they should be for the individual to choose.

    As you are fully aware, I am neither a theist nor atheist. More of an agnostic I suppose, in the great scheme of things. However that doesn’t make me demean others’ beliefs on religion. May their God go with them and all that. Again, as I have told you, the only thing I have against religion is, the number of wars it has caused over the years, and the amount of people lost, to it’s causes. I do not however, judge people because they were/are willing to fight for what they believe in. Their choice.

    You will make mistakes along the way, we all do. Again that’s part of life. If we do not make mistakes, we can never learn from them.

    Alexander will be just fine as long as he is allowed to think/ and do things for himself…and not always do what others want, or expect him to do.

    My grandson is extremely lucky. Not only does he have parents that want the best for him. He also has a huge family support system, both in N.Ireland and back here in England.

    Now that can’t be bad can it?

    Comment by Vivienne Dembski | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  25. I don’t want to criticize what you’ve written here, but I think you’re missing something important that might help you frame this a bit more clearly. The entire discussion is about what you will and will not tell your child, not what you will and will not teach him.

    As an activist promoting skepticism and critical thinking, a field which overlaps a lot with secular and atheist activism, I encounter a lot of atheist parents who, unlike you, are horrified at the mere thought of their child being exposed to religion. They seem no different to me than fundamental Christian parents who are terrified that learning about evolution will make their children doubt God and I find both puzzling and disturbing.

    You’ve mentioned that it’s arrogant to say that one religion is the absolute truth and you’ve noted that you would like him to learn about many religions, then decide for himself. What I think you’re going for here is a bottom line that my husband and I have tried to follow with our own boys:

    Teach them how to think, not what to think.

    If we don’t expose our children to various viewpoints, where will they get practice in critical thinking? You really don’t need to worry so much about others saying that it’s true. Even if they say, “This is what I believe” instead, children are not really capable of skepticism (at least the way that we think about it) until they are capable of theory of mind (around age 4) and even then it will take time before they can understand separate the personal beliefs of others from truths. What they need to learn is how important it is to change their world view with new information.

    Let others tell kids what they believe. When what one person tells them contradicts what someone else (or that same person, since a lot of religious doctrine is self-contradicting) has told them, the child then has a puzzle to sort out. When they ask you (the parent) about the puzzle, you can frame things as “some people believe” and “other people believe” rather than “this is what’s true”. When they reach an age and level of cognitive development in which they begin to ask you what YOU believe, tell them and tell them why you believe it. Until then, just encourage them to think critically by asking them questions and letting them sort it out for themselves.

    I’m quite sure that Alexander will grow up to be an intelligent, open-minded, free-thinker.

    Just my $.02.

    Comment by badrescher | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  26. I am a big fan of the things that you are speaking of. Basically, I plan on teaching my kids to not be assholes and to treat others the way that they’d (my spawn) want to be treated. I don’t understand why people have such a hard time with those concepts.

    With parents like you and Katie and the coterie of family surrounding you, I think Alex is going to turn out just fine and minimally asshole-like (except when it comes to stupid people, but really, who can fault ANYONE for that?!).

    Comment by Lis0r | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  27. So… how did you baptized him? Protestant or Catholic?
    I had this discussion with a pall of mine, a few weeks ago. We’re both Orthodox, not because we want to, but because we were small and got this junk shoved down our throats (our heads were too soft)
    My view on this is let the kid decide what religion he/ she wants to belong to. Don’t forced it out on him/her.
    Also, I’m dating an atheist chick and when I mentioned children as a general thing, she freaked out (she’s only 22) but still, I’m a bit of a mix between the two : I believe there is something out there, not necessarily God as Christians view it.
    And not necessarily kind either. More like a casino manager that goes:
    ‘Hey, you had a nice run, you can’t blame me for what happened even if you did loose all your money and your wife ran out with a mexican.
    I just own the place, I didn’t force you to bet or anything.’

    In other news, creationists scare the crap out of me. Like they’re so convinced that T-rex lived alongside Adam & Eve that is becomes scary real fast.
    I don’t think you’d remain antisocial when your kid wants to know stuff from you, I think you still have that special nerve somewhere inside you that will tingle or even break at the sight of your own child wanting to know the universal truths from his dad
    (because that’s where the real cool shit in life is, right there, besides sex and alcohol and drugs and… other hedonistic stuff)

    Comment by Flying_Dutchman | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  28. I really enjoyed reading that Aaron. Thanks for sharing this.

    Comment by Rob Ashley White | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  29. Dont mess with Lono, bro.

    Comment by Angus | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  30. I found the same Aaron, its like no one really gives a shit until you have a kid then its all forced down your throat, how you should do this and how you should do that, I see it as you are their pearents so its up to you if you want to raise your child as ultra nationalist republican or an aetheist god hater or religion forbid an intelligent individual who is able to make senisble choices about their faith.

    Comment by Dave | August 5, 2012 | Reply

  31. First of all, this has been – once again – a fascinating read. Thanks for that!

    As for the question at hand, I really wouldn’t have expected to come to the defense of Christianity here, but I’d still like to point out that there’s quite a few different flavours there. I grew up believing in God (and being told all those stories in the Bible), but in a rather laidback fashion in what I would like to believe is a rather civilised and “worldly” part of Germany. Our brand of Lutheranism never ever tried to pretend it was the only gig in town and that other people were doing it wrong somehow. What’s more, all the sermons I heard as a kid and as an adult always enforced the view that it was actually your choice what to believe in (of course they also think that God is still there, even if you choose not to believe in him, but you can’t fault them for that — it’s their business). All in all, it was a nice community to grow up in, and I never felt like something was being force fed to me.

    Today, I have a rather laidback view of religious matters myself: I guess I’ll find out whether there’s a god or not in the afterlife. Until then, I can still try to act like a sensible human being and not screw other people over. I should also try not to make other peoples’ lives more difficult than they have to be. And far be it from me to criticise anyone based on their personal choices of lifestyle. I also tend to chuckle at people that let their religion actually get in the way of their happiness and well-being. No god I could possible respect would expect his followers not to be something or rather: be something that they are not. What worth does a heaven have if you only get in there by tying yourself into a pretzel?

    But here’s the kicker: Every once in a while, I go to church. And sometimes, just sometimes, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Because it creates a sense of community. Because, if nothing else, it’s something I have in common with many people around me, because it’s a part of our culture, whether I believe in the stuff. (Even if you don’t, there’s some pretty sensible stuff in the good book. Granted, there’s some horrible shit as well. Goes to show that you shouldn’t let scores of evangelists and monks work on something for thousands of years.)

    Anyway, what I am trying to say is this: As long as you are as thougtful as you come across in your posts, you’ll probably be fine.Your son will grow up to make his own choices, and that’s excellent. Don’t try to explain atheism to him when he’s three, perhaps, it may be a bit too much for him. And as long as the flavour of Christianity around you is not purely of the “fire and brimstone” variety, he should be fine, even though he may be subjected to it from time to time.

    Definitely keep this up, it’s fascinating (and I’m not even a parent)!

    Comment by krautscientist | August 6, 2012 | Reply

  32. You guys have a cute fucking baby. Good job.

    Comment by ratmeatcuisine | August 6, 2012 | Reply

  33. That is a cute baby.

    Mad props to your views on early child development. I have very much taken the same approach with my little people. I just want my kids to understand the value of scepticism. If they continue to ask as many questions as they do now by the time they are teenagers, then I know I did my job. Also, as a parent, it is okay to tell your kids,”I don’t know the answer to that, I still trying to figure that shit out myself.” This is generally, I find, a brilliant answer for when my kids ask, “Daddy, what is God?”

    Comment by J.P. | August 7, 2012 | Reply

  34. Being from Houston originally I had to grow up in a megachurch. I have the same family it appears, my parents and the wife’s parents are both uber religious and I think I may use your list to inform them of our stance. Thanks for this enlightening piece of mind my friend.

    Comment by theryanfactor | August 7, 2012 | Reply

  35. Somebody buy this man a beer for the gods’ sakes. we have the same beliefs as you across the pond for our own baby when we get him/her/it.

    Comment by renerodr | August 10, 2012 | Reply

  36. All I can think about in the first picture is baby Alexander shouting:
    BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD, SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE!

    Aside from that, best of luck raising your child, you seem to be doing an excellent job already!

    Comment by sam | August 12, 2012 | Reply

  37. Someone needs to get Lono a training bra,those things are right out of Nat Geo.
    I think I went to one of his parties last time I went to Vegas

    Comment by Will W. | August 15, 2012 | Reply

  38. If I believe in God, wouldn’t it be strange if i didn’t tell that God is real to someone who asks my opinion? What should i say then? If i tell Alexander that ‘my God is the real one’, he will know that i think so. If i tell him something like ‘well, certain people believe something like this…’ he won’t even know what i think.
    It is the nature of believing, nothing unnatural. If you accept that there are different religions existing, you must face that he will hear different opinions, each as if it was the only truth. That’s the point of an opinion, that you think it true despite other opinions. If you have none, you can see all of them as equal. But if you have yours, that’s because you think it is the truth.
    Telling what i believe as if it were the truth is not a kind of agression, it is being honest.
    regards,
    a.

    i think ‘badrescher’ also covered part of this (25. above)

    Comment by ambrus | August 20, 2012 | Reply

    • You’re missing a key piece in the puzzle.

      If you believe something as an opinion, with no validated evidence in the entire sphere of human experience, and counter to all evidence, that’s one thing. People believe believe plenty of things like that. I’m no exception, and I’m not going to go into what sort of things I do believe.

      But here’s the key. I say “I think this…” or “I believe this…” and not “This is true.”

      We’re not talking about coquettishly avoiding all opinion. We’re talking about you not getting to say your opinion is The Right One. You can say you think it, sure. You can say why. That’s a key difference. One is an opinion you share. The other is indoctrination of children, which is how religion has thrived for so long: by beating it into their heads when they’re young.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | August 22, 2012 | Reply

      • Oh, thanks for answering.
        You are right, of course, stating it like that.
        But I think the enemy of reason is not indoctrination itself, but arrogance, which you’ve made inseparable above. Arrogance can come along indoctrination, as well as without it.
        I’ll get to my point. Is any religious upbringing indoctrination? If so, I don’t think it is inherently bad. It won’t make the children more arrogant in itself. And it seems the obvious (probably only) way for a faithful couple.
        Of course it is not the same as me telling Alexander what the Truth is. I just say, as a parenting strategy, absolute neutrality is not the only tolerable version, and also looks incredibly hard to accomplish (especially as a faithful parent). The kid will make your beliefs his own, weather you press it or not – that’s probably the way children work. Easier then to be honest, and simple, and just tell him the things you believe. I don’t think there’s any harm in that. It doesn’t have to be aggressive, it can be done in 21st century spirit, not like the Spanish Inquisition.
        I see your point, but it is unnecessarily radical in my opinion.
        regards, a.

        Comment by ambrus | November 7, 2012

  39. I think you and the author of The Oatmeal have a lot in common, as far as this subject is concerned, Aaron. I couldn’t help but think of you and your loathing for Nickelback in this strip:

    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/religion

    Particularly these lines: “What happens when you do sexy things… Everytime someone has homosexual intercourse, God punishes us by letting Nickelback release another album.”

    Comment by Sam Fenwick | August 28, 2012 | Reply

  40. He looks so Irish. Beautiful baby.

    Comment by Veronica | October 22, 2012 | Reply

  41. […] This is a post by Aaron Dembski-Bowden on raising his son, particularly in regards to religion. […]

    Pingback by Blog Every Day in May: Online Reading | Dear Saul | May 26, 2013 | Reply

  42. Handsome fella, you must be very proud.

    Here’s a letter I wrote for my 4yo son for when he’s about 15. It’s some guidelines for happiness, and it hints at the way we intend to raise him as a free thinker. http://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/guidelines-drawn-in-gray-the-ancestor-letter/

    Comment by AmRestorative | May 26, 2013 | Reply


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